Tuesday 19 May 2009

Format shifting and the speed limit

As we all know, under the present laws in England, format shifting is illegal. Even where a person owns a work and wants to make a copy for private or personal use, they can't do it without breaking the law (unless they're licensed to, of course). Nevertheless people format shift regardless of whether they're licensed or not. Other than the speed limit, can you think of another law which is broken so frequently?

There's a vein of thought that the archaic state of copyright law actually encourages copyright infringements - if people think that the law is outdated and inapplicable to the modern age they are more likely to disregard the entire body of copyright law.

What do you think?

Isn't it a bit simplistic to say that once we have a robust and modern format shifting exemption in place, punters will start to respect copyright? Shifting formats one day does not necessarily lead to unlawfully downloading an entire series of Lost or 24 the next. Even a sensible format shifting exemption will be infringed because surely the reality is that, like the speed limit, copyright infringement is impossible to police effectively and comprehensively. Like breaking the speed limit, it is easy to do undetected.

Also, if you have a car that's fast enough to break the speed limit, chances are that you have done so, whether inadvertently or otherwise. Car manufacturers make it easy for you to break the speed limit by selling you a car that can give you a smooth ride at over 100mph, whilst computer programmes invite you to "import songs" from a CD and devices enable you to burn a CD or DVD. You aren't supposed to use these products to break the law of course.

Does anyone else think that the introduction of a format shifting exemption is really too late to do any good?

Will it reflect common practice or, more likely, will it impose more restrictions on the common practice than are currently observed by those who do it? In any event it will surely be a toothless provision unless it is properly enforced. Despite numerous traffic police and countless speed cameras the speed limit is broken thousands of times every day. That does not bode well for infringements of the new format shifting regime.

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